Get to know our new UK CEO, Paula

Former Head of Production for BBC Sport, Paula Stringer, has been at CAP for a year as Executive Director. 

From this week, she’s our new UK CEO! In this in-depth interview, we learn more about her story, her faith and why CAP’s mission is especially close to her heart.

- Brilliant, thank you, Paula, for letting us invade your house here in beautiful Marple. And for giving us the time to get to know you.

- You’re welcome.

- Our incoming new UK Chief Executive. Yeah, thank you for having us. And hopefully we’ll enjoy today, finding out a little bit more about who you are and your journey to CAP and your thoughts on our future as an organisation. So, for those of you who don’t know you, shall we start at the very beginning?

- Oh heck.

- Where are you from? Where were you born?

- I’m actually from Sheffield. And that’s where I spent all of my childhood right up until my sort of early 20s.

- So you grew up in Sheffield and you came from which side of the tram tracks in Sheffield?

- Definitely the rough side of the tram tracks. My dad was a labourer at the time. Mom was a hairdresser and then gave up work, looked after me and my brother and sister. And I didn’t have to pay for a haircut until I was 20, which was brilliant.

- That’s an advantage, isn’t it?

- Yeah, it was an advantage actually.

- And what did you want to be as you were growing up? What was the dream?

- Oh, I was gonna be a dancer, that was my dream. I went to dance college and trained there, trained for a year. And a year in, my left knee completely gave way. I’d just overdone it. And I realised that there was no way that I was going to be able to do a whole lifetime of dancing when I couldn’t get through a whole year. So, you know, ended up with mom and dad going, what am I gonna do? And I said, Do you know, I need to take some time out, have a think about what I’m gonna do.” And dad said, Absolutely, yes. And in the meantime, you can get a job.” I was like, thought I was just gonna take a year off.

- And what was the job?

- Well, I actually… my dad decided he was going to find me a job. Obviously, I wasn’t necessarily, I did work for IBM for a time, just for a short amount of time doing some administrative work. And then my dad handed me the Sheffield Star with a big kind of red circle on it saying, that’s the job that you need to go for, that one there. And I looked at it and said, I don’t know anything about broadcasting and that’s at Radio Sheffield. Now I loved Radio Sheffield, we all did, cause we all were quite big sports fans, but I didn’t know anything about radio particularly. And he said, I really think that that is the job that you should go for.” And so I did, I went for it and miraculously, despite doing the worst interview of my life. It was so bad, they were actually laughing. They were kind of, I mean, I knew only the frequency and couldn’t answer another question basically. But for some reason they felt that I got something that they wanted. And that’s how it began, that is how it began.

- [Dan] And was it a sports job at?

- Originally, no, I started on reception and then in the newsroom, because someone went on long-term sick, and then eventually ended up working on the sports programmes.

- So being from Sheffield and you said family into sports, did you have a club? Was it Wednesday, United?

- Sheffield Wednesday.

- I have to admit, I knew that because I grew up as a Wednesday fan as well.

- I did not know that.

- Did you not know that?

- I did, yeah, yeah, yeah.

- How come you’re Wednesday fan? You’re not from Sheffield.

- No, I’m from south of London, but at the time I was a goalkeeper and the goalkeeper at the time I was growing up was Chris Woods who’s played for?

- England.

- England and Sheffield Wednesday. So that is my little connection. Plus I had an uncle up north.

- Aw, I love you even more now, Dan.

- I know, it’s just a weird connection, right? So you’ve moved from a receptionist and you’re now working doing all sorts of news stuff. BBC Sheffield, what was the next step?

- So at Radio Sheffield, I went into their sports team and then moved from there, actually moved over to Leeds and worked in helping to establish their multimedia newsroom, which is where they were trying to bring sort of radio and television a bit more together and do a bit of online stuff at the time as well. So I went over to Leeds. I’d also got engaged at that time. And my fiance was over that side of the woods.

- Okay, so was it the job?

- A bit of both.

- Or was it a bit of a 50/50.

- Yeah, yeah.

- And how long were you in that role?

- I only stayed there for about 18 months and then actually got a job in BBC Manchester. Moved across, started with religion and ethics and worked, basically, my way up of the organisation. Worked in so many different departments across the years. I worked in entertainment and did Question of Sport” and some big sort of documentaries. Worked in news and current affairs. I obviously, worked in sport, which was my last job, but also factual.

- Wow, the whole… The whole remit.

- I think drama and children’s were the only things that I think when I looked at, I thought I’ve not actually formally done those, but I have worked on drama stuff. So yeah, it was just one of those things that-

- But you started religion and ethics?

- Yes, yep.

- [Dan] Did you have a faith at that point?

- Oh, absolutely, yeah. I mean, one of the reasons I wanted to work in religion and ethics was because I had such a strong faith. I was very open about my faith. I’ve been a Christian since I was five years old. My mum and dad became Christians before they got married, just before they got married. And they were the kind of Christians that, there’s nothing nominal about my mom and dad’s faith and that’s still the case. They were sold out for God. And I remember sitting on my top bunk and giving my heart to Jesus, saying the prayer with my dad. And there’s never been a question that that is and was a real thing for me. And that was how I grew up. God was in everything.

- So you did that for a couple of years, how long were you in religion and ethics?

- I worked in religion and ethics on and off doing different roles for probably about eight years actually. But I came in and out, and most of the time I would leave and get another job, so I went to work in entertainment and came back and then went to work in current affairs and came back. Usually after getting a promotion, basically. So I moved up the organisation. I was never actually very ambitious, this is not about ambition. It’s just that I liked new things. And I said, yes. I thought, if someone asked, ooh, do you fancy? and I’d go, does that sound okay? Does God say no? Doesn’t seem to be. So I pushed a lot of doors and that’s how I ended up ultimately, kind of moving up the organisation. I mean, I worked for the BBC for, well, a total of 25 years, spanned about 28 years in reality, but I left a few times and worked for other Christian charities actually, doing various different things, but always ended up back there. And I think that that was really at the time where God was using me and growing me. And I ended up sort of leaving the news North hub and handing that over and getting the job to run sport, their production, business and operations. And that’s sort of, you know, it’s been an incredible journey really in terms of my career, and all God ordained, there’s no question about it.

- That seems like an incredible job. I mean, for people who wouldn’t know what that job actually entails.

- It’s a privilege. It was privilege, I loved the job. I mean, who doesn’t want to produce the Olympics and the World Cup and well, in fact, if you like, even if you don’t like sport, I defy anyone not to think that that’s a really cool thing to do. And it was, it was amazing. And I… had no intention at the time of leaving that amazing job. That’s the truth. But I know without question. I look back on it, I mean, I smile at how God used so many circumstances and experiences in my life in order to put me where he wanted me to be here at CAP. You know, it’s been quite an incredible journey really.

- Tell us a bit a bit about that. Cause to leave a job that sees you flying around the world to the World Cup, the Olympics, all these events that most people would be excited to even be at one of those events.

- And It was exciting. And you know, the BBC is obviously an iconic organisation, and it’s an incredible place to work. And I know I was well known and very respected there, and I recognise that that’s no small thing. And that’s why this is, I suppose, in some senses, even more incredible. And the reason is, it’s because of all of the, even the small things that I now recognise in terms of what God did over the years to make me go, that is where I need to be. Christians Against Poverty is where I need to be. So, yeah, even small things like, I went to the first New Wine North event in Harrogate, and I think it was back in 2005. And I was handed this book by this bloke called John Kirkby called Nevertheless” and I decided to read it. I love reading, loved it, still love it. And really enjoyed the book and thought, that’s a really incredible kind of important thing that someone is doing. And took the book home and put it on my bookshelf next to my bed. Now that book remained on the bookshelf next to my bed up until only a few years ago, when we moved bedrooms and all of the books went on to a different bookshelf, which sounds like nothing, except for the fact that I turned around and changed virtually, well, every other book, apart from the Bible, every other book, it never stayed the same. And for some reason, I never touched that, it was not conscious, but what it did do for all of those years, was serve as literally a constant reminder of the work of CAP. I used to think often, I’d kinda go, oh, yeah, CAP great organisation, kind of thing. Like just a subconscious thing.

- Just a seed.

- Just a seed, yeah, just a seed.

- And that was, you know, there were many, many things. The small things and significant things.

- You weren’t looking for a job?

- No, no, no, no.

- So how did it even come about?

- Well, it came about through interestingly, through… my father who has obviously a habit of doing this kind of thing. And he sent me the job ad in the post.

- Circled again.

- It had a note on it with a circle, yeah. Saying, Just read it.”

- Wow.

- And I opened this and thought, what on Earth’s this? Ooh, Christians Against Poverty, love them. You know, it was literally that kind of, love Christians Against Poverty. And realised that it was an executive director role and thought, that’s really interesting, wonder why dad’s sending that to me? And then cause of the note said, just read it. I have never read a job ad or a person spec, if you like, that felt like either I had written it or it had been written for me. Not just the skill base, I mean, the skill base was kind of one thing, but something about the kind of characteristics and person and the feel of, A, CAP, and B, the kind of person they wanted. And I knew exactly why my dad had sent it. Cause, I mean, it was like reading a description of me in a job ad. And I was really fascinated by it, and really taken with it, I have to say. And then set it to one side, and kept on coming back to it.

- [Dan] Like the book.

- Like the book, exactly, no. To be fair, me and the team or my team, we were just preparing to deliver the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. We’d also then got to deliver the Commonwealth, sorry, the World Cup in Russia and then the Commonwealth Games in Australia, this was a very, very busy time. I did not necessarily need to be distracted by a job that I wasn’t actually looking for. But God knew much better than that. And we prayed about it, we did pray about it a lot. And he kept on sort of just pressing. And in the end, I phoned my dad and said, look, I’ll phone the recruitment consultant and he said, good, have a conversation. And I had a great conversation with Ewan the recruitment consultant. And the thing that clinched it really, was the fact that at the end of the conversation, I was walking around an office at the BBC and he said, I’ll tell you what, Paula, let me just pray for you.” And I couldn’t believe that CAP was so on it with God. And so committed, that they even bothered to get a recruitment consultant that was a Christian. Genuinely surprised me because that’s so not normal, not of the sort of like, the real secular world, if you like. And he prayed a beautiful prayer over me and I put the phone down and thought, wow. And God was like, poking me.

- nudging, just nudging.

- This is right, this is. And the rest, as they say is history. I applied for the job.

- [Dan] Been with us for about a year now.

- Yes, got the job 18 months ago and been here a year after delivering all of those things.

- So, you obviously know about CAP. You’ve heard John speak, got the book. What is it about-

- Got the t‑shirt.

- The work of Christians Against Poverty. Yeah, got the Exhibition t‑shirt. What’s the work of the charity? What is it that drew you to kind of the purpose and the core of who Christians Against Poverty are?

- Well, you know, when I say that God used many circumstances and situations in my life to bring me here, it was actually being in debt and going through an extremely difficult time that… really sort of solidified in my belief and passion for the work that CAP does. Even before I saw the job ad. My husband and I, we ran and owned a business in Marple, just actually down the road from here. I was still working at the BBC. I think it was full-time, maybe four days a week. We had two small children. One of them with a life-threatening illness. Things were very, very busy, but we had this beautiful business, it was a coffee shop, deli and restaurant. And it was very loved and we loved it. So we… ran that in a very small setting for quite a number of years. We only had a certain amount of covers. I think it was like 32 with 12 outside, something like that. So it was little and it was covering its costs and it was lovely, but we knew that actually, if we really wanted to make something of it, what we needed was a bigger premises, Cause we were constantly full. A great place to be. So we prayed about it and felt that God said, yep, yep, I’ll sort of walk with you on that journey. Went to the bank and talked to them about getting a business loan out so that we could expand and took a business plan. And the bank basically said, we love your business. It was a local bank who, the bank manager used to come into toast. And she said, I love the business, business plan, yep, great. And then a premises came up around the corner, twice the size, brilliant. And we moved in and like I say, things were very busy, but the first year went well and we hit all of our targets and all of our markers on the business plan. What we didn’t know at that time was that there was a recession lurking around the corner, and so was Costa Coffee. So what normally happened was that if another business opened up, whether it was a coffee shop or a deli or something like that, and they did over the years, that happened every couple of years. But your business would take an immediate hit. But then as… As more businesses opened, actually what happened was this kind of groundswell, because more people would come in from outside of Marple going, I know, we’ll go to Marple, because there’s really nice coffee shops there. There’s a couple of nice delis and you’d end up gaining back your own business and more. And it happened year on year on year on year. So we knew the trend, the problem was that actually, we also knew that having taken the business loan out, we’ve got three years that it was gonna be very, very, very tight. But we’d been fine for the first year, and we were kind of, okay, everything’s all right. But within eight, nine months, the business was ruined, actually. We couldn’t pay the rent, we owed money. We couldn’t pay the VAT bill. We owed creditors who, they’d become friends over the years, these local suppliers, thousands of pounds, that we ended up having to let our amazing staff go and Dan was completely broken. He was devastated. And you know, he felt that it was his fault. It wasn’t, absolutely wasn’t, but we just could not sustain at that period of time. And it was extremely traumatic and very, very difficult. Now… bear in mind that, you know, Dan and I went through kind of the loss of the business and ended up ultimately going through bankruptcy. We took countless calls from, basically, angry local suppliers that were once friends that had turned into enemies. Dan couldn’t even go into Marple. He ended up off of work for a whole year and was very, very poorly. It was an extremely difficult time for all of us.

- And you were holding down a very significant job on the other side as well, trying balance the family life, the challenge there, how was that?

- It was absolutely awful. And this is the thing, you know, we had… my Christian family supporting us, a local church family. I have a prayer triplet. I had an income coming in and still, it felt impossibly difficult at the time. We had a faith that told us that all things work together for good to those that love God. I didn’t stop believing that, but it was still really, really hard. And yet people that come to CAP, and I knew that then, and I know it more now, they have so often nothing, no other income, no network of support, no faith in God that tells them that ultimately he’s in control. And actually, there were times where I thought we we’re gonna get to breaking point, it was so hard. Now, God did get us through it, Dan got a beautiful job at the National Trust at Lyme Park, just around the corner and spent a few years in their estate office, just sort of, you know, looking out on the beautiful scenery and watching the deers run around. And it was incredibly healing for him and for both of us. And, you know, we came through that. We knew we would, even though it was difficult, but that gave me an absolute, bit between my teeth and an understanding of the true trauma, the shame, and how judged you feel as a person just going through those kinds of things and how hard it is. And like I say, at the time, I didn’t think, ooh, let’s go and get a job at CAP. I still got this amazing job and that happened just before actually, I moved into the role where we sort of moved Breakfast and 5 Live up from London to Media City. It was just before that. So I kind of went straight into this enormous job and then into sport. But it was… it was something that was profound in our lives, not the only profound thing, but it was profound. And I look back now and smile.

- [Dan] Yeah, see all the pieces falling into place.

- Oh, yeah, yeah, in a way that only God can do, where he does really turn all things together for good. Those that love him.

- Yeah, he does, he does. So you joined us about a year ago today, you’re working alongside John our founder, and Matt our now outgoing CEO. How did you find your first year at CAP? When you got on the inside, is it what you expected? What’s different, how have you felt?

- It’s not what I expected. This is a properly Christ centred organisation. I don’t know whether, I knew that it was Christ centred and it was one of the biggest things that drew me. But the fact that it is so lived out in the daily work surprised me and it’s been of great, great joy. You know, you sit in a meeting and start with prayer. You invite God into the decisions that we’re making. And it’s been profound. It’s had a profound effect on me, on my… just loving that I can now express my faith so much more freely. And it is quite unique actually.

- And you have now stepped up to be the UK Chief Executive.

- I have.

- As of, well, pretty much today, isn’t it? So how does that make you feel? What are you excited about? What does the future look like for you personally as CEO? And we’ll come on to the organisation in a bit, but just that whole process for you, how’s it felt stepping up into the role of Chief Exec?

- Incredibly exciting, I have to say. That’s how I feel, I feel very excited. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was also, when Matt told me that he was stepping down, that I wasn’t gutted. Working with Matt and John together at the top of the organisation was something that I really was looking forward to. And it’s been a very, very special time. It’s been a really special year. And Matt’s shoes are enormous shoes to fill. And I am not going to pretend that I am going to fill those shoes in the same way that Matt did, but I can tell you that I have the same heart for helping people that are in need, that are in debt, that are in poverty, as Matt and John. But I suppose I bring a slightly different skillset and that’s okay. I am gonna miss Matt terribly, but on the other hand, I’m now kind of going, I am very excited about what God’s now doing for the future as well. And I’ll still see Matt and Josie.

- [Dan] Yeah, they’ll be around.

- They’ll be around, yeah.

- But now you’ll be working directly alongside our founder. You’ve done it for a year so far, but yeah, you looking forward to that?

- Yes, yeah, very much. I mean, John is amazing. He is an incredible pioneer. He brings an energy and obviously experience that most people don’t. And I need John. And I can’t wait to kind of get to work with him even more closely actually. So yeah, I am really looking forward to that.

- And the organisation then, the future for CAP. Obviously, people will be aware watching this of some of the work we’re doing around what we’ve called Time to Breathe, but looking to that, but also beyond that, the future you believe God has for CAP, and God has brought you to CAP for this time. Give us a bit of a glimpse into the future of CAP under your leadership.

- Obviously I said that I was very excited about taking the CEO role up, I am unbelievably excited, but it’s not been the easiest of years either. There’ve been lots of challenges, Time to Breathe being one of those challenges. I kind of see it in two different stages really. One of the first things that I actually want to do is to meet more people, listen more, and actually strengthen the foundations of the organisation so that we actually are ready to then do the next 10, 20 years. And that’s a really critical part of the next two, three years. In reality, that is it. But ultimately, you know, what I believe is on God’s heart, and what CAP wants to do and needs to do is to expand to reach more people. People need CAP. It’s sad to say, I wish they didn’t, be great if we didn’t exist, wouldn’t it? But at the moment, God is using Christians Against Poverty to work with the churches and fulfil those needs in society that are there. And there are more and more people that need us. So ultimately, we want to help more people. But for now, this is about strengthening the foundations so that we can actually build on those. But I want to be clear about something as well, and this is something that I think, we know and believe that God has spoken to us as a core team and CAP about. And that is about where the church fits in into our future. You know, we will be ultimately become less and less CAP centric and more and more church centric. God works through his bride, the church. And that is, if it’s okay for God, then it’s okay for us. And that’s what we should be doing. And that’s what we’ll be doing more and more in the future. You know, this is not about CAP, this is about God’s work through CAP. And the focus of our work will be through the church, face-to-face and that will never change. So everything will be built around that moving ahead. And I’m really excited about that. I’m excited about sort of a new vision, but right now, focusing on strengthening foundations and getting those things right and firm before we build and move on, and really kind of go and achieve what God has got for us.

- So if you could put a message out there to anybody watching, so this could be a frontline staff member who faithfully serves in their church going on debt centre visits or running their job club, or it could be one of our many supporters who’ve prayed for us and given to us for years and years and years. As CAP transitions, as we go through this season where you’re taking the reins of the organisation, what would be your message to those who are involved or continue to be involved in all the ways that you can be with CAP, what would you say?

- The single most important thing that we need is prayer. And I would ask people to carry on praying for the ministry that we are trying to build and grow, because what we’re here to do is to serve God and we need God’s wisdom in it. And of course, we still need the financial support and all of those other things that go along with it. But, you know, supporting us actually, fundamentally, in praying that God is helping us make good and right decisions is, that’s the way to succeed in my view. Putting God first, everything else will be given unto us and prayer is a vital part of that. So I think, you know, I suppose there are many things that one could say, but actually at the end of the day, walk with us on this journey, we can’t do this without the church. In fact, CAP wouldn’t exist without the church cause we’re not just going to be a debt charity that is an online service or just a telephone-based service. That is not what God’s called us to be. And we’re unique because we operate through the church. Looking after those people in the community that God gives us all a mandate to do for the poor that are around us. So, you know, I think keep on supporting us, stepping out in faith that God will, can work through you wherever you are. But yeah, pray for us, pray for me.

- We will do. And for those out there in positions of leadership in the church, those who have communities on their door with people struggling in poverty a stone’s throw from the front door of their church, for the people who could make a difference in those communities, what would you say?

- I would say that, if they haven’t already engaged with CAP and the service, then they need to understand the difference that this actually makes in an individual’s life. We’ve obviously, we speak to hundreds and hundreds of people a day just about what they are going through. And when a frontline worker actually turns up on the doorstep of someone’s house, they actually genuinely, they bring hope and they shine God’s light into the darkness. And I would just say, you know… join us.

- Well, Paula, thank you for your time. I feel like even I’ve got to know you a bit better over this last-

- Well, yeah, Sheffield Wednesday, who knew?

- Who knew, who knew? And I speak for all the rest of the core team in the organisation to say we’re hugely excited to have you steering the good ship CAP, to lead us to where God has us next. We’ve had an exciting first chapter of the journey, but this next one looks to be every bit as exciting with you taking the lead on it. And so thank you for allowing us to come into your kitchen.

- You’re welcome, the sun even shined.

- The sun has shined for us. And so, yeah, we will be praying as I’m sure will everybody else who watches this, and we’re excited for the future.

- Thank you, Dan. Thank you, God bless you. Want a cuppa?

- [Dan] Yeah.